From the TD’s corner, the MSA World Scrabble Championship Final
So, after 42 games each over 5 days against competitors from around the world, for David Eldar and Harshan Lamabadusuriya it came down on a five game shoot-out for the title of World Scrabble Champion 2017.
It was very clear from the outset of Sunday morning’s encounter that the differences between these players are significant. Harshan arrived at about 10.30; headphones in, turned out and relaxing. David arrived at almost exactly the scheduled 11am start time. The style of waiting varied too, with Harshan giving the impression of someone waiting to go into a (somewhat nervewracking) dental appointment, and David preparing to enter the arena of The Hunger Games. These two approaches held out as game one commenced.
Cool, calm and collected, Doctor Harshan draws 7 from the bag, places them onto his rack while David mixes the tiles in the bag as intensely as whisking the mother of meringues. As Harshan plays off QAT for 24 on rack one, David slams down a bonus within seconds, which is challenged. Five points for David. Harshan’s response is also challenged. Is this nerves or is this a desire to allow for zero mistakes?
The game settles down into a steadier rhythm after 4 moves each, by which time David has two bonuses and Harshan has one bonus and a four time. Such a lull allows a director to consult their own inferiority complex. Questions like “is my phone definitely on silent?” and “should the need to break wind arise, can I keep it subtle” flutter through one’s mind at these otherwise insignificant moments in relative time…
…Boom! We are off again and this time it is the doctor who’s foot is on the accelerator. Back to back bonuses for Harshan bring the scores to 314-315, though Eldar has a move in hand, holding ACHIOOU and possibly oblivious to the fact that Harshan has just got his hands on the second blank, moments after playing off the first one. Can he make it a hat trick of bonuses?
No…he chooses instead to pick up a fairly juicy score for the X, leaving him with ABEEOT?. Eldar now has EFILOUY and so, from my reckoning, is potentially in trouble. FLUIE(R) his choice of move. Harshan now decides to spend plenty of time looking for a bonus. Down goes (C)O(M)BATEEs and Eldar starts shaking his head … is that because he thinks this is game one slipping away, or because the other blank has been played, or is it just possible that he knows what the commentators would have been exclaiming from the next door booth (thank goodness for thick walls)? COMBATEES* is not a valid move. ‘Challenge’ is Eldar’s word, no hesitation this time, and off comes the phoney.
Despite this successful challenge, Eldar is still in the land of clunk – but clunk with which he can score. Indeed, he plays off 5 clunkettes (small formations of the final clunk!) and scores 34. Harshan is now 52 behind… with the same, previously challenged off rack. Eldar’s removal of the clunk means that OBVIATE is now sat on his rack. Harshan fishes and opens a lane… now I really am wondering the significance of Elder’s head shake, combined with a count of the bag and the formation of a grin in its slow stages of evolution…OBVIATE is now playable!
He bides his time, perhaps more than I expected, but then here it comes, the move that will cement game one, the bonus that will…hang on…
VAT for 14. Okay, so I’m not an expert (though I was the ABSP’s most improved player in 2014 – by a record margin I may add…), which may explain why I was not expecting that. But surely Eldar knows he should still win by doing this. Indeed, the doctor now knows it too. Game one to Australia with a total of 38 seconds remaining for both players.